Aldon Tackles Parallel Development Problems with LMi 7.5
April 10, 2007 Alex Woodie
It can be difficult to coordinate among teams of i5/OS developers working in parallel. Who has code segments checked out? How will their work be merged? What if there are conflicts? These are some of the issues that Aldon is addressing with the latest release of its i5/OS change management offering, Aldon Lifecycle Manager (System i Edition), or LMi version 7.5, which features a new graphical compare and merge utility, new automated conflict resolution capabilities, and better integration into Aldon’s workflow tool.
In many cases, change management products such as Aldon’s LMi are used so programming moves forward in an orderly fashion. By preventing one developer from checking out and starting work on a piece of code that another developer has already checked out and started to work on, change management tools can help insure that development progresses in a linear manner, and toes don’t get unduly stepped on.
But not every shop has the luxury of linear development. When time is in short supply, development shops will sometimes put all available hands to work on a given project to get it done as fast as possible, says Daniel Magid, president of Aldon.
“Normally, you don’t ever want two people to have the same thing at the same time. But in other situations, companies have to allow for that,” he says. “For example, during a large development project, say changes to program X cause it to break in production. You have to do a fix. You can’t wait.”
Parallel development may also be required by i5/OS shops that make modifications to their packaged applications, Magid says. Programmers may need access to the same sets of objects as they’re adding their modifications to a new release of their vendor’s software package, while simultaneously performing required maintenance on the old version.
These situations can make for messy code and potentially lost work if they’re not handled cleanly and objects get overwritten. For a long time, Aldon’s LMi package included a green-screen compare and merge utility to help OS/400 and i5/OS shops keep a grip on parallel development projects. The utility would generate a lengthy report that included annotations in the margin to help the developers locate the lines that were inserted, changed, or deleted. Users could tab from one changed area to the next if they entered a search string, or just print out the changed portions.
But this technique was far from ideal. Aldon has improved upon it with the new graphical compare and merge facility with LMi version 7.5, the first new release of the product since 2005.
Aldon added the graphical interactive compare and merge utility so developers who are working in parallel development can see what’s different between programs, Magid says. “They can now bring this up in a graphical interface with the two changes side by side, and if doing a merge, they can see them on another screen on the bottom.”
Aldon previously offered the graphical compare and merge facility for the multi-platform version of Aldon Lifecycle Manager, and decided to offer it for its bread-and-butter System i product. “We had this for C++ and Java. Now we have the graphical capability for RPG and COBOL.”
Despite the availability of graphical i5/OS development tools like WebSphere Development Studio Client (WDSc), Magid notes that most Aldon customers are still using the old green-screen interfaces, and he’s not inclined to push them away from the green screen. “But when you want to do a compare and merge, that’s actually a good place to have a graphical interface,” Magid says. “Obviously the green-screen version is still available. You don’t have to go completely over to graphical interface. But it allows you to use a graphical interface” where it makes sense, he says.
Also aiding parallel development in LMi 7.5 is the new conflict resolution facility, which is now available through the standard green-screen interface. With this feature, administrators and developers can quickly sort and identify version conflicts using status tags, such as active, pending, or cleared, speeding up parallel development.
“It’s a whole new system for managing the parallel development process. This really is in response to developers saying ‘how do you deal with multiple people working on the same thing at the same time?'” Magid says.
In previous releases of LMi, the software would inform the developer how many conflicts remained in the work, but not much else. “It would tell you there are 10 conflicts, but you wouldn’t know if you’re already looked at them. There was no way to keep track of them. ‘Have I actually looked at it or I have done maintenance or finished with maintenance?'”
The feature is similar to the Table View feature in WDSc that allows developers to view outstanding conditions and clear conflicts, Magid says. “Now you can also see that same information from the green screen,” he says. “You can see all that information from whichever interface you like better. We want to make this so the developer is as productive as possible.”
The final major feature in LMi 7.5 is better integration with the Windows-based Aldon Community Manager software, which is used by administrators and IT managers to track incidents and by end-users to submit change requests and requirements.
In previous releases, managers could create tasks in Community Manager for programmers to complete, but there was no interface from LMi back to Community Manager. With LMi 7.5, Aldon has added a hyperlink to LMi’s green-screen interface that automatically opens Aldon Community Manager in a Web browser, where programmers can update the status of their tasks.
LMi 7.5 is still in beta tests and should becomes generally available by the end of June. Pricing starts at $2,000 per user. For more information, see www.aldon.com.